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Fun things to do in Southern California

Illustration by James Gulliver Hancock

A curated list of the best upcoming events in Southern California.

Winter Fantasy

Through December 18 The 32nd Annual Sawdust Art Festival’s Winter Fantasy rings in the holidays with original artwork by more than 150 local, national, and international artists; live music; carolers; photos with Santa; and all the trimmings for a winter wonderland. Festivities begin with a tree-lighting ceremony on November 19 and continue for 5 weekends through December 18. See art demonstrations; shop for pottery, jewelry, fine art, and glass-blown ornaments; and join winter-themed art, crafts, and pottery classes (free with paid admission). Seven eateries and libations from the Sawdust Saloon round out the holiday cheer. Adults, $9; season pass, $20. For free admission on Sundays, bring a new unwrapped toy for the Spark of Love Toy Drive. Laguna Beach.

Dana Point Harbor’s Boat Parade of Lights

FREE! December 9–11 Now in its 47th year, Dana Point Harbor’s Boat Parade of Lights will dazzle locals and visitors with more than 700,000 LED lights and a “Surfin’ USA” theme. Parade-goers can enjoy holiday-themed photo opportunities, visits with Santa, strolling carolers, lighting installations, and much more. While Santa may not surf, he’ll certainly be spotted aboard a boat or two during the cavalcade of glowing vessels. Dana Point.

San Diego Bay Parade of Lights

FREE! December 11, 18 Over the course of two weekends, San Diego will celebrate more than a half-century of parading through its sailor-friendly channels. About 80 bedazzled boats, ranging in size from a single occupant to sail-hoisting crews, will cruise the hour-and-a-half-long route. Each boat will be competing to be immortalized with the “Best of Parade” award. San Diego.

L.A. County Holiday Celebration

FREE! December 24 Every year, the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion hosts a free 3-hour extravaganza featuring local choirs, music ensembles, and dance companies. The performance starts at 3 p.m. and tickets are available on a first-come, first-seated basis. Los Angeles.

Mission Inn Festival of Lights

FREE! Through January 6 Downtown Riverside’s Mission Inn is a sight to behold any time of year. Draped in millions of meticulously placed lights, the inn becomes magnified during the holidays as it glows from every corner and bustles with folks in festive spirits. One of the nation’s largest holiday light collections, the Festival of Lights—now celebrating 30 years—draws visitors from across the country. Riverside.


FREE! Through January 6 Featuring a tree-lighting ceremony, a Santa’s village, a parade, a Nativity pageant, a holiday food tour, a maker’s market, candlelight tours, and much more, Solvang embraces the festive spirit with a weeks-long celebration that culminates with a tree burn and fire-safety demonstration. An open invitation is extended to residents who wish to add their withering Christmas tree to the massive pyre for a cathartic start to the new year. Solvang.

Hawk Watch

FREE! January 7–February 26 Put a Saturday morning aside to spot raptors in the wild, learn about their habits, and go in search of a bald eagle nest. Bring your own binoculars or use the high-powered telescopes on-site; guides will be on hand to help. Hosted by the Wildlife Research Institute, the event is held on private property adjacent to the Ramona Grassland Preserve hiking trail. Begent Ranch, Ramona.

Morro Bay Bird Festival

January 13–16 David Allen Sibley headlines this year’s event, leading a master class and 2 of the more than 140 events that include workshops (there’s a new one on bats), special events, and field trips to the area’s varied habitats. Field Guide to the Birds of North America co-author Jon Dunn will also share his expertise. All ages and interest levels are welcome; advance registration is recommended. One-day registration, $82; free for youths up to age 17. Morro Bay Community Center, Morro Bay.

Riverside Lunar Festival

FREE! January 28–29 It’s the Year of the Rabbit and the 10th anniversary of the Riverside Lunar Festival. The party kicks off at noon on Saturday with the annual performance of the lion dance, plus taiko drums and Shaolin kung fu demonstrations. Food trucks will keep you fueled for live music and performances, a kids zone, and vendor booths. Downtown Riverside.

“Scandinavian Design and the United States, 1890–1980

Through February 5 Dansk (“Danish” in English) is a line of tableware and cookware long embraced by consumers. But did you know that it’s actually an American company? Explore the cultural origins and evolution of what we now call Scandinavian design and see how, over decades, immigrants and designers made its clean, classic, and uncluttered lines so popular in the U.S. Adults, $25; $20 for L.A. County residents. Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles.

International Festival of Chocolate

FREE! February 5 Indulge in a favorite treat while learning about the cultures that discovered and utilized the cacao bean. Lee Scott Theisen, known as the Chocolate Guru, explains all things chocolate and hosts a chocolate-tasting session. Activities include face-painting, chocolate sampling from specialty providers (also available for purchase), and folk dancing. Bowers Museum, Santa Ana.

Santa Barbara International Film Festival

February 8–18 Join producers, directors, actors, and movie buffs from far and wide. Organizers cast a broad international net to present feature-length, documentary, short, and animated films plus seminars and panels with the pros. This year’s honorees include actor Brendan Fraser. Find the schedule and ticket options online. Various locations, Santa Barbara.

76th Annual Holtville Carrot Festival

FREE! February 9–12 Packed with vitamins, fiber, and antioxidants, the humble but healthful carrot boasts its very own festival complete with a Carrot Queen, a carrot-cooking contest, and a carrot parade on Saturday, which features an elaborate float decorated with locally grown veggies that you can buy. Enjoy a Friday night concert, other live entertainment, and crafting and food booths. Downtown Holtville.

Riverside County Fair & National Date Festival

February 17–26 This year sees a return to the traditional, full-scale event of pre-pandemic days with attractions ranging from Future Farmers of America livestock competitions to appearances by Queen Scheherazade and her court, concerts, carnival rides, and games. For the first time, all food vendors must include one date item on their menu. Date shake, anyone? Riverside County Fairgrounds, visit website for ticktet information. Indio.

Firecracker Festival

February 18–19 It’s the Year of the Rabbit, so hop on over to Chinatown for the Lunar New Year 5/10K walk/run or sign up for the 20/40-mile bike ride—or both. Kids get their own event, while 4-legged family members can join the 1-mile PAW’er stroll. Check online for the event schedule and registration fees. Chinatown Plaza, Los Angeles.

Tea at the Huntington

Opening Spring 2023 The Huntington’s Rose Garden Tea Room will reopen in spring 2023 following a major renovation. The refurbished building includes upgraded indoor dining space, a new outdoor dining pavilion overlooking the Shakespeare Garden, and a new Herb Garden, available for private parties and events. Adults, $25–$29 (for admission to the Huntington). Check the website for opening dates. The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens, San Marino.

The Flower Fields at Carlsbad Ranch

March 1–May 14 Fifty acres of vibrant color greet visitors at this working ranch dedicated to growing the extravagantly petaled Tecolote Giant Ranunculus (a.k.a. Persian Butter Cup). Follow trails through the approximately 80 million blooms or opt for a wagon tour (adults, $8). The seasonal display is accompanied by activities such as a Sweet Pea Maze, blueberry picking, tea in the garden, and sunset wine-tasting and food evenings. Adults, $23. Carlsbad.

Desert X 2023

FREE! March 4–May 7 This site-specific exhibition continues its focus on social and environmental themes. This year’s theme considers water: how the memory of it has formed our deserts, and how the forces humans exert on the planet affect our environments, for better or worse. Visitors can view the works of participating sculptors, painters, architects, and others via the Desert X app, which includes details about the artists and their installations and a map to the locations. Coachella Valley.

Dana Point Festival of Whales

FREE! March 4–5 The northbound gray whale migration peaks in spring. Check out the multiple shoreside celebrations, including a parade in Dana Point on March 4, but set aside time to cheer on the stars of the show, best spotted from the bluffs above the harbor or from the deck of a tour boat. The full schedule and parking and shuttle info can be found online. Dana Point Harbor, Dana Point.

60th Annual Ventura Gem Show  

FREE! March 4–5 Are you fascinated by raw rocks and fossils, or do you prefer the smooth finish of polished stone? Either way, you can learn about our planet’s earthly treasures and hone your lapidary or jewelry-making skills through workshops, demonstrations, and meetups with area enthusiasts. Proceeds fund earth science and jewelry arts scholarships and resources for teachers. Ventura County Fairgrounds, Ventura.

Highland Citrus Harvest Festival

FREE! March 25 Get a feel for Highland’s early days as a citrus-growing area when artisans gather to demonstrate such old-timey skills as rope making and blacksmithing. Check out vintage orange crates and farm equipment, then tour the historic homes of the former citrus barons. A car show, food and vendor booths, and live music round out the fun. Palm Avenue and Main Street, Highland.

“Regeneration: Black Cinema 1898–1971”

Through April 9 This wide-ranging exhibit includes rare—and rarely seen—feature films, documentaries, newsreels, home movies, and memorabilia that reveal the influence of Black American directors, producers, actors, and artists from 1898’s “Something Good: Negro Kiss” to the “Blaxploitation” movies of the ’70s. Adults, $15–$25; ages 17 and under, free. Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, Los Angeles.

20th Annual Theodore Payne Native Plant Garden Tour

April 15–16 Want to replace your water-hogging lawn but not sure where to start? Take a self-guided tour of some 30 to 40 public and private gardens in L.A. heavy on native plants and other water-thrifty options. These gardens not only save water—and dollars—but also provide a welcoming habitat for wildlife. Tickets, $45, include all-you-need-to-know guidebook. Los Angeles.

Coronado Flower Show

April 15–16 Local gardeners are the stars of this show, which draws thousands of attendees eager to see what their Coronado neighbors have achieved. Categories include roses, orchids, cacti, succulents, and bonsai, with awards in each section plus one for best children’s entry. Stop by the informational booths for help on how to enhance your own garden. Tickets, $10. Spreckels Park, Coronado.

Taste of Ojai

April 16 This art and music enclave expands its appeal with a chance to sample the best food and refreshments from some 30 local restaurants and up to 10 wineries and breweries. Tickets for this Rotary Club fundraiser also include tours of art galleries plus live music at Libbey Park, where the event closes at sunset with a dessert-and-wine tasting. Tickets, $90. Various locations, Ojai.

Bolsa Chica Earth Day Festival

FREE! April 22 This Earth Day, check out the vast range of natural life that thrives beside the highway. Interact with animals, test the water quality, take a guided tour of the area, and stop by activity and food booths. Bolsa Chica Ecological Preserve, Huntington Beach.

Bungalow Heaven Home Tour

April 30 This Pasadena neighborhood is made up of historic, early 20th-century bungalow homes built in the Craftsman and English Revival styles from 1900 to about 1925. In 1989, it was designated a Landmark District, and it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. For the first time in 2 years, you can tour several of these homes in person. Tickets are $20 and benefit the Bungalow Heaven Neighborhood Association. Pasadena.

“13 Women”

FREE! Through August 20 This exhibit, part of the Orange County Museum of Art’s “Looking Back to Look Forward” reopening theme (the museum recently moved into a much larger permanent home next to the Segerstrom Center for the Arts), nods to the women artists who launched the original Balboa Pavilion Gallery in 1962. Spanning the 1960s to the present, the exhibit includes the works of Vija Celmins, Mary Heilmann, and Joan Brown. Orange County Museum of Art, Costa Mesa.

FREE! indicates free admission to the event, but additional fees may be required. Be sure to designate a driver if you plan to drink alcohol.

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AAA travel alert: Many travel destinations have implemented COVID-19–related restrictions. Before making travel plans, check to see if hotels, attractions, cruise lines, tour operators, restaurants, and local authorities have issued health and safety-related restrictions or entry requirements. The local tourism board is a good resource for updated information.

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